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Ten Angry Men?

06/15/2017 01:34:23 PM

Jun15

Why are there so many key Jewish rituals that require a minyan?  The reason for the minyan requirement is that some rituals and experiences are only truly meaningful if they are public.  One can always study Torah as an individual, but it is embarassing if one is reading from the scroll and there are more people crowded around the bimah than in the seats!  Kaddish is at its essence a call and response.  It only achieves its full spiritual effect if there is a community responding to the one reciting it.  But why are 10 required to constitute this sacred quorum?  Couldn’t 9, 7, or 6 be sufficient?  The surprising answer is found in our Torah portion, with an important lesson for all of us.
 
There are many potential Biblical reasons for the magic number of 10.  For example, in Genesis, God agrees that the evildoers of Sodom will be saved if there are ten rightous people present.  In the book of Ruth, Boaz summons ten of the townspeople to witness the transactions that enable Ruth to become his wife.   The Talmud’s answer (Megillah 23b) goes a different way, weaving together three disparate sections of the Torah including a passage from this week’s Torah portion.   12 spies are sent to investigate the land of Israel.  Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back with a positive report, ten with a negative report.  The ten negative spies lack self-confidence, and say that the land is a terrible place, and that we will not be able to overcome the obstacles to conquering it and living in it.
 
God says of the negative spies “how long shall I tolerate this evil congregation?”   Since ten of the spies were evil, that means that ten  is enough to constitute a congregation.  The rabbis hopscotch through the Bible, to next week’s parashah, and to Leviticus 22, which speaks of sanctifying God’s name in public, to conclude that ten is therefore the minimum size of congregation is required to say "communal"  prayers like kaddish and kedushah, and read from the Torah.
 
Just imagine how much easier things would be if fewer of the spies had come back with a negative report.  We might have a minyan of 9, or 8 or 7.  If that were the case, things might be a lot easier at 6:15 on a rainy Monday evening!   How amazing, though, that the source cited by the Talmud for constituting a minyan refers specifically not to ten people  who are known for their piety and good deeds, but rather to those who have challenged God and are doomed to destruction.
 
I think there is a reason why the sages choose this source.  This is one case where every Jew counts, whether righteous or rascal.  10 sinners have a power that 9 sages do not.  Every  Jew has the potential to make a difference by being a part of a minyan, no matter what their level of knowledge or observance.   Our congregation has had a very strong minyan for the last year, but we will need extra help to continue  strength over the summer and into 5778.   Please consider coming once a week, or twice a month.  If you have not already filled out the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/btminyan,  please do so and let us know when we can call on you.  It doesn’t matter whether you feel like you are a “good Jew” or not- you are certainly better than the spies, and that’s all that counts.
Fri, October 18 2019 19 Tishrei 5780